Planning Meals for Kids

child eating

Planning meals for kids can be downright simple by following a few easy rules.

As a daycare provider you are in a unique position to be able to teach children about nutrition, help them to make good food choices and give them the opportunity to try a variety of foods.

Start first by making the meal nutritious. This means combining foods from several different food groups.

Information from the USDA given to you from the food program of your choice will give you everything you need to know about choosing foods that will fit in the breakfast, lunch and snack categories.


The Food Groups are:

  • Grain Products
  • Vegetables and Fruit
  • Dairy Products
  • Meat and Meat Alternatives

Now, let's make the the meal visually appealing...




Picture a plain lettuce salad. Now, picture the same salad with ripe cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers,.. maybe a bit of onion. Most of us would rather have the second salad.

Planning easy meals for children is just like making a salad.

Now, picture a meal. You could serve bland colored Chicken Noodle hot dish, pear bites, and white bread with butter. Although all the food items are child friendly, let’s spruce it up a bit. If you remove the pears and white bread, and substitute fresh strawberries (or broccoli) and golden brown bread sticks (or wheat bread), suddenly, it’s a meal that “looks” good.Try to use color to make the meal more visually appealing.

Children can be very finicky eaters. If it doesn’t “look” good they don’t want to eat it.

Keep in mind when planning meals for kids that several types of food present as choking hazards to small children. Children have small airways. It doesn’t take a large item to cut off their air supply.

Here are some of the foods that may cause a problem for children under the age of four:

  • Nuts of any kind
  • Popcorn
  • Raw Carrots
  • Raisins
  • Peanut Butter
  • Chewing Gum
  • Jelly Beans
  • Any Hard Candies
  • Marshmallows
  • Potato Chips
  • Hot Dogs
  • Raw Celery
  • Whole Grapes

Watch children closely when they eat. Putting too much food in the mouth at one time should be discouraged. Too much laughing or excitement can also be a problem.

Some tips to make mealtime go more smoothly.

  • Mealtimes help to promote social skills in children. Encourage conversation at the table with kid friendly topics.
  • Realize that children have smaller appetites, and need to eat more often (every 2-3 hours) than adults.
  • Young children like foods that are easy to eat. Finger foods are best.
  • Try to have a transition time between an activity and mealtime. Give the children a couple of minutes warning.
  • Realize that some children will eat incredibly fast and others much more slowly. Have an activity available for those who finish quickly, and have patience with the slower eaters.
  • Encourage the children to eat, but make no mention of how much is eaten or a refusal to eat a certain food. Should a child “good naturedly” try a new food; try giving the I Tried a New Food Award. I’ve given this award out if they really love the new food, or if it gets spit right back on their plate. This award is for ‘trying’, not ‘liking’. I will say, however, that once a child receives this award, it somehow makes the other kids more willing to try new food items.

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Use a Rotating Menu System

Planning meals for kids is even easier with a rotating menu. I rotated on a three month basis. This means I decided in advance what I would be serving for three months.

The menu was written on a calendar type form. This makes it easier to plan ahead, especially when our local grocery store was having sales on food items I planned to use the following week. I also had the ability to buy in bulk.

At the end of the three months, I simply started the same group of menus over again. While this system will take a little time to set up, you’ll save yourself from having to plan meals and snacks on a daily or weekly basis.

*Remember that your menu is never written in stone. I have on occasion changed a meal for a special day, or because a certain food item sale was too good to pass up. I simply like the rotating system because it makes planning meals for kids much simpler.


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Daycare Breakfast/Lunch/Snack Help:

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Fun Kids Activities

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